Steubenville Mayor Rejects Change to Policy on Public Participation During Council Meetings

Steubenville City Council will take another stab at amending its rules for public comments, though members made it clear Tuesday they want to avoid repeating the “fiasco” that led to them having to do it again.

Council voted 7-0 last week to allow the general public to react to any item discussed during a meeting, only to have Mayor Jerry Barilla veto the amendment because it lacked clarity. Barilla said council needed to clearly state in the amendment whether members of the general public who want to react to topics discussed at a meeting had to wait for the public comment period or if they should be recognized in real time.

Fourth Ward Councilman Scott Dressel introduced a proposal that would require residents with questions or concerns to sign up by 2 p.m. the Monday preceding a council meeting, but would also permit anyone who wants to react to a topic or issue discussed at the meeting to do so during the public comment period prior to adjournment.

The existing rules cut sign-ups off at 4 p.m. the Friday before meetings and prohibit anyone who isn’t registered in advance from speaking.

Dressel said he “went over everybody’s comments and the charter as well” before drafting his proposal, pointing out it stops short of “opening it up to a (completely) open meeting, but it’s a little more open, so (the public) can at least talk about what’s going on at a meeting, which is pretty much everybody’s intent all along, I think.”

“If, for example, we had discussed the water tower, during the public forum if someone had a question about it they can (ask it) during the public forum,” Dressel said.

Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna said he sees no reason to change the rules, pointing out the system in place “worked for over a year.”

“The mayor was doing a good job handling it,” Villamagna said. “Then all of a sudden, out of the clear blue sky it’s not working for the citizenry. I’m against it, clearly against it. I think the old way was perfect.”

First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto agreed the existing ordinance works.

“I think we’ve spent too much time on this,” DiLoreto said. “No one else has a public forum to my knowledge, not Congress or the state. I think it was working, and I’m not going to change my vote.”

Second Ward Councilman Craig Petrella described the lengthy, sometimes heated, discussion that preceded council’s Jan. 29 amendment as “a fiasco,” as council members were talking over each other.

“It seemed like somebody would be talking, but three or four people would jump in” and drown them out, he said. “It seemed like a three-ring circus.”

Petrella suggested council and administrators brush up on Robert’s Rules of Order, generally considered the standard for civil debate, “so we don’t have a debacle like we had last week.”

Councilwoman Kimberly Hahn circulated what was referred to as a “cheat sheet” of Robert’s Rules that council could refer to, and suggested Law Director Costa Mastro do a 30-minute tutorial.

Third Ward Councilman Eric Timmons voiced frustration with the lack of progress with the matter, pointing out that “last week we spent 45 minutes (on it) and didn’t get anywhere, and tonight we didn’t do much better.”

Timmons said the key is ensuring members of the general public who have questions or comments direct them to council as a whole and refrain from personal attacks on department heads or businesses,

Following the public meeting, council met behind closed doors to discuss the contract of City Manager Jim Mavromatis, which expires March 23.

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